Thursday, 31 May 2012

Westward Ho!

It’s been a lovely weekend - almost wall-to-wall sunshine. But it didn’t start too well. On Thursday I took the train to London to pick up my painting from the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition at the Mall Galleries. I then went on to The Waterman’s Hall near London Bridge to see The Royal Bargemaster. (I intend to paint a portrait of him against a background of this coming Sunday’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant.) Unfortunately the Underground Circle Line was not in operation so I took a taxi there. It took ages because so many roads had been blocked due to the Jubilee preparations. Here is one of a few photographs I took of Paul Ludvig – the Royal Bargemaster.

In my final painting I’ll paint Paul in the scarlet uniform he will be wearing on Sunday when he accompanies the Queen at the head of the flotilla. Because I was leaving for Somerset that evening I hurried back to Paddington and boarded my train hoping to be home by about 4pm. Twas not to be. About halfway to Henley the train stopped and after about half-an-hour an announcement informed us that the points ahead had failed and there would be a short delay. It became a one hour wait in the stifling hear of the hottest day of the year! Finally we were told we had to transfer to a 3-coach train on another platform. As I was on a 7-coach train I hurried across knowing not all of us would fit into the new train. Eventually I continued my journey standing up in an overcrowded and unbearably hot compartment and finally arrived home just before six - in time to have a quick bath, pack, and set off to the West Country. I stayed with friends Sharran and Michael North (he of Dragon’s Den fame - being the Olive Oil Expert.)

Next morning I set off for Wells where the Hilliard Society of Miniaturists was opening its 30th Annual Exhibition. This is a view of the moat surrounding the Bishops Palace there.

It was very nice to meet so many old friends from the miniature world – here are Paul and Jacqui Eaton (he’s a marvellous sculptor and goldsmith) and Heather Catchpole.

Later in the afternoon I was honoured to be presented with the Bell Award for the best miniature portrait. Here I am, next to our new President, making off with the trophy.

That evening Sharran and Mike joined my party for the formal dinner at Wells Town Hall – the venue of the exhibition, and the following morning I left for Devon. Originally I was due to stay with good friends Ian and Jane Stevens, but they had come down with a bug. So, with the help of the Internet, I booked a room in a hotel in Sidmouth for the next two nights. My first stop was Greenway - Agatha Christie’s holiday home. I’d pre-booked a parking space there.

Sited on a promontory above the river Dart, Greenway has been described as ‘The Loveliest Place in the World’. It sure was beautiful.

Sited in about 30 acres of woodland, the contents of the house were collected by five generations of the Christie family. Now taken over by the National Trust, I found everyone, starting with the man at the gate, most welcoming and friendly, and had lunch in the kitchen. Before leaving I visited the shop and was pleased to see that they were selling the wooden jigsaw puzzle of my painting ‘Mousetrap Memories’ which depicts a number of items form Dame Agatha’s play ‘The Mousetrap’ still running in London after 60 years.

Next stop was the drive to Sidmouth. This is the swimming pool in the garden of the Westcliff Hotel, where I would be staying.

Before dinner I took a walk along the esplanade where I chanced upon this cyclist doing ‘Wheelies’ on what looked to me to be very dangerous rocks.

On Sunday morning I called in to see my cousin Dave and his wife, Anne. They live in a house right on the esplanade at Seaton – only 20 minutes away from Sidmouth. Afterwards I decided to visit A La Ronde near Exmouth in Devon. This extraordinary sixteen-sided house was created around 1795 for the Misses Parminter, who decorated it with feathers and seashells, seaweed and sand, cut paper and marbled paint.

Wandering around the house I was most intrigued. Everywhere you looked there was something fascinating to see. Shells were everywhere, worked into the most wonderful designs. Here’s a parrot decorated with feathers in the Shell Gallery.

After leaving A La Ronde I chanced upon a Kite Festival organised by the Rotary Club of Exmouth. Scores of incredible kites were flying in the afternoon sunshine. Here are a few of the flags and kites for sale – I bought the one at the top right for my boat.

And now a couple of the gigantic kites flying high in the sky. 

At the very colourful event I had a go on the shooting gallery – and won a couple of packets of sweets. 

Later in the afternoon I drove to one of Devon’s most beautiful villages – Branscombe

I particularly wanted to visit the old working mill there. To get to the mill you need to walk through a number of fields. This delightful little yellow coloured cottage served afternoon teas.

And finally to the mill. I ventured up a very steep ladder to explore the upper chamber. A coarse granary type flour was being ground while I watched.

A brisk walk along the seafront and dinner at a nice looking hotel, then, as Samuel Pepys would say, ‘and so to bed’.
In the morning I planned to visit Longleat Safari Park in Somerset on the way home. Having never been there before I was really looking forward to driving round amidst the wild animals. Owned by the 7th Marquess of Bath his commitment to conservation is declared through this mission statement – “ Longleat’s aim is to encourage appreciation and awareness of the world’s natural environment and the species within it through education, conservation and research”. After a look around the incredible interior of Longleat House (This is part of a wall painted entirely by the Marquess)

I went for a trip on the lake where I captured this photograph of a sealion as he surfaced by the boat as we travelled along.

Before braving the Safari Park itself I had a look around the many attractions including ‘King Arthur’s Mirror Maze’ – a place to be avoided, as I found it most disconcerting! And here is the bizarre entrance to the ‘Jungle Kingdom’.

Then, finally on to the Safari. Much bigger in area than I thought as it winds its way through the park. At the entrances to the large animal enclosures a gate slowly opens to allow you to go through to the sections containing the lions, cheetahs, tigers and other dangerous animals. I’ll just show a few of the photographs I took as I travelled around – mostly with the windows of the car kept closed.

Later in the afternoon I drove up to Pinkneys, near Malmesbury – the home of the Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle Company. I wanted to see the factory as now they are producing five of my paintings as jigsaws. Especially interesting was to see how the laser beam wends its way through the wooden boards as it cuts the intricate patterns on the design. Then to end the weekend I called in to Great Shefford to see another cousin, Paul (who’s just written his second blog, by the way) and Jo. We drove to Hungerford where we had a really great Indian meal.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Wildlife Painter

Soon after I started my 5 year apprenticeship as a lithographic artist in Reading designing biscuit tins and tea caddies for Huntley and Palmers, a new artist arrived on the scene. His name was Vic Granger and was, at the time, my artistic hero. Vic, was a journeyman designer. Not only was he a really good artist and designer, his sense of humour was terrific and we conspired in numerous japes at the expense of an unsuspecting head artist (who’s claim to fame was that he’d been stationed in Egypt during the war, which resulted in him constantly referring to his feet and showing everyone his‘desert rot’).
After a few years Vic and I decided to form a small company and called it GMG Design Partners - G for Granger, M for Mundy and the remaining G for Ruth Granger (Ruth, Vic’s wife was also an accomplished artist).
But, after a 2 year spell in Singapore performing my National Service as a cartographer during the Malayan Emergency, when I returned to England and completed my apprenticeship the lure of the East was so strong that we put GMG on hold while I gained experience in advertising by taking up a 3 year contract as an Art Director in Singapore. And the East was where I stayed for nearly 20 years. Vic remarried after a few years and moved to a little village in Norfolk where he took up fine art full-time, specialising in painting greyhounds, whippets, horses and wildlife.
When I returned to live in England in 1978 each spring I spent a long weekend with Vic and Christine in Norfolk, regularly making half-hour video films of our adventures. Vic’s knowledge of wildlife – especially of whippets (they owned four) resulted in beautiful paintings and hundreds of limited edition prints. Although recently suffering form Parkinson’s Disease Vic still painted every day – albeit with a slightly freer style. Two weeks ago he went to hospital for a knee replacement, and while there unfortunately contracted MRSA and subsequently pneumonia. Very sadly on Saturday Vic died. He was one of my oldest friends. This is a miniature I painted of Vic about 5 years ago.

It won the President’s Special Commendation Award at The Royal Society of Miniature Painters annual exhibition in 2007.with comments referring to the sensitivity, sincerity and kindness of the portrait, The President was right. Vic was not only talented, but kind, a great husband and father and a true friend. I’ll miss him a lot.

It’s been a full painting week - and I’ve probably spent well over 60 hours on Kevin’s portrait, a lot of them stippling his black frock coat.
Now that the river has gone down somewhat I took my dinghy out for the first row of the year on Saturday afternoon. Although the current is still strong, at least there’s not much white water. We went nearly as far as Henley Bridge before turning back and rowing against the current. Good exercise – I need it. Hopefully I’ll have a new mahogany rudder fitted this week, which should mean I won’t have to constantly look over my shoulder.
On Sunday I was invited to my niece Louisa’s house for dinner. Kate, Guy and Louisa’s 6 year-old daughter had, in the last few days, been given a little kitten. She named him Muppet. I think she favoured him because his hair colour almost matches her own.

Thursday, 17 May 2012


After many hours of careful corrections I’ve managed to save my painting of the Royal Flueologist, or at least disguise the mini-disaster I mentioned on my last blog. There’s still probably around 100 hours to go before I finish it completely but here’s a close up of his face. It’s life-size, by the way.

On Saturday morning my young friend and I called in to see Rolf and Alwen on our way to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Gardens at Wisley. Rolf’s exhibition “Can You Tell What It Is Yet?” opens this coming Saturday at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and runs until the 12th of August. This retrospective exhibition covers not only Rolf’s paintings but a large amount of memorabilia, from his paint spattered jeans and Stylophones, to swimming trophies from his days as junior champion in Australia. Rolf told us that at the entrance to the exhibition there would be a full size cutout portrait of him standing next to a kangaroo. Visitors will be able to pose with him by sitting in the kangaroo’s pouch.

So on to Wisley. For a change it was a lovely warm spring day. As we expected the RHS gardens were immaculate. I’d forgotten how extensive they are. We spent several hours wandering around – with a short stop for a sausage and bacon lunch break at one of the garden restaurants. At the top of one of the grass walkways we came across this enormous statue by Henry Moore.

About three years ago Her Majesty the Queen opened this beautiful new glasshouse.

Inside the glasshouse it was as if we were back in tropical Singapore and strolling round the Orchid Gardens there.

Such a lovely day. I’ll put a few of the photographs I took as we wandered around, (The first one is a close-up of a robin singing merrily away and was taken by my young friend).

On Sunday we drove to Goring where I go every year to pick asparagus from one of the fields there. However when we got there we saw a sign suggesting we come back on Tuesday as the asparagus ‘was all picked out’. Much to my friends disgust I did pick a few spears and promised her I’d go back there next week and pay for them. In the opposite field swathes of vibrant rape dominated the landscape.

On Monday I was invited to the Mayor Making Ceremony at the Town Hall in Henley. Elizabeth Hodgkin was to be elected Mayor. I’ve known Liz for a number of years and in fact will be painting a miniature portrait of her dressed in all her regalia in the next few months. Here she is with her husband, Richard, and Vince Hill.

Monday, 7 May 2012


That wasn’t exactly one of the words I used when I nearly ruined my painting on Saturday morning. The air was blue! In more ways than one. Having spent over 100 hours so far on a large watercolour of the Queen’s chimney sweep I’d masked most of the painting so I could airbrush the deep blue sky I’d planned. A nice cerulean blue gradated up to a deep ultramarine to represent a night (Mary Poppins) sky was progressing well when suddenly the airbrush projected dark blue splashes all over the top part of the painting and then deposited three large dollops of paint on the virgin white of my watercolour board! I quickly abandoned the airbrush and attempted to paint the sky in gouache colour. It was not what I’d intended to do, but at least it semi-saved the situation – even though my beautiful cerulean gradation had to be sacrificed. However when everything had dried out and I lifted the mask I discovered that a 4-inch square section of part of the painting I’d already completed had escaped the masking and was now covered in a mid-blue tint! I spent 9 hours yesterday, Sunday,  working on the painting, and hope, eventually, to disguise that bit. My stupid fault for not checking the state of my airbrush regularly. Maybe I’ll show the progress in my next blog.

Bowling started again on Monday evening. Having not played since last September I expected to be very rusty, but pairing up with one of the best players I found that it was fine, and we ended up winning our match – and I beat his score too.

It’s always so nice to meet up with old friends – especially those that I’d met when living overseas. Jack and Eileen Bygrave were such a couple, but sadly Jack died last autumn. Eileen however is visiting England with her friend Jeanette so we met up for lunch at Phyllis Court Club on Tuesday. Here they are standing under a fading magnolia tree.

On Thursday my young friend and I caught a late afternoon train to London so we could attend the private view of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries. As we walked through Trafalgar Square towards the Mall and passed the enormous lion, we noticed that the fourth plinth at the north corner of the square was now filled with a golden sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse.

Until a permanent sculpture has been decided upon it’s always interesting to see what has been erected there as the occupant is changed regularly. Now on to the Galleries.

It really was a splendid exhibition and just shows how many wonderful portrait painters there are practising their art in England today. It being the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the RP has dedicated a section of the exhibition to their patron, Her Majesty the Queen, so it was interesting to see dozens of these Royal portraits painted and drawn in a great variety of techniques. Apparently there were nearly 2,000 submissions to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters this year so I was very pleased to have my small portrait entitled ‘Farmer George’ accepted.

I’ve just been told that my miniature portrait of the actress, Rula Lenska, has been awarded the Bell Prize for the best portrait in the upcoming Hilliard  Society Annual  Exhibition in Wells, Somerset. Truly honoured, I’ll be collecting this award when I travel to the West country later this month.

I didn’t go to sculpture classes on Friday as that was the day of my old friend Terry Jordan’s Memorial Service in Beaconsfield. And what a lovely service it was. Two hundred friends and family filled St. Mary’s & All Saints Church. Jimmy Tarbuck, Terry’s best friend, gave the first tribute. Being a comedian, his recollections of some of the times spent with Terry were hilarious and, although the occasion was sad, the church rocked with laughter. But even Jimmy couldn’t quite control his sadness towards the end. During the service a stunning blonde walked up to the front of the church and sang ‘Ave Maria’ and later on ‘Pie Jesu’. Her name was Keddie, and I must say she had the most beautiful voice I have ever heard. Terry would have loved to hear her. She was so wonderful that the whole congregation clapped. And I was very honoured to see that the large painting I had made of Terry several years ago was placed in a prominent position at the front of the church.